FOSO: The Fear of Switching Off

We work 40 hours weeks, spend over 2 hours a day scrolling social media, yet we still can’t switch off. A new study has found that a nearly fifty perfect of people are suffering from ‘FOSO’ - the fear of switching off.

FOSO: The Fear of Switching Off
Whether you’re on a walk, at dinner with friends, or on holiday - an increasing number of us are struggling to switch off from work and technology. A recent study which surveyed 8,500 people across 11 countries, had found that 1/3 people globally experience “the fear of switching off” or FOSO. Unplugged also found that over 50% of our guests identify burn out, high screen time and the inability to switch off from work as the main reason for going on a digital detox. So what is FOSO? And why are so many of us struggling to switch off from work?
1/3 of people experience the “fear of switching off” or FOSO [source]

What is FOSO?

FOSO is short for ‘Fear of Switching Off’ which that nagging feeling that keeps us tethered to our devices and connected to our work even when we’re supposed to be relaxing. It's like a work and technology version of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) but applies to emails, messages, and those endless notifications.
A 2016 study found that it’s not only the time that workers spend responding to emails after hours, but also the anticipatory stress, or the expectation of having to respond to after-work emails that stresses employees out. The expectation of always being contactable has given rise to people feeling like they cannot fully switch off. Yet we all know and understand the benefits of rest, this digital-age challenge has us gripped in a conundrum: to balance the need to constantly stay connected with the urge to unplug and relax.

Why do people suffer from FOSO?

This state of being "always-on" which has been exacerbated by work from home, technology and the need to be hyper productive are all contributors to the rise of FOSO. Many people have a strong fear of falling behind, missing out on crucial information, or simply are in pure habit.


Being constantly connected through technology means we have the ability to be working around the clock, from anywhere in the world. This fuels the fear that people may be missing out on information, feel guilty if they’re not being productive, or feel pressure from their employers to reply to emails even after work hours.

Blurred work-life boundaries

Since the pandemic, work from home and hybrid work culture has become a large part of many workplaces. Working from the dinner table has blurred the work-life boundary that was more prevalent pre-pandemic. Plus, the fact that we are not sat at our desks means that employees feel the need to prove they are working, which could also be a contributor to the inability to switch off.

Social media and productivity

Unlike FOMO which is the fear of missing out of social occasions, social media can contribute to FOSO in a different way. ‘Hustle culture’ and online success stories of people who have worked endless hours to become ‘successful’ can drive people to feel the need to constantly be working towards amplified visions of success. There is always a new way to be more productive and social media can glamourise working long hours and being hyper-productive.
49% of employees find themselves working on holiday for at least an hour a day [source]

How to break out of FOSO?

It’s not an easy break, but there are small changes you can make to your everyday routine to help you break the fear of being disconnected.
  1. Digital Detox Take a 3 day break, or allocate specific times of the day where you will stay away from your devices. It can be during meal times, an hour before bed, or even dedicated no-screen weekends.
  1. Mindfulness & Meditation Sounds cliché, but it’s backed by science. Even a 10-minute daily mindfulness exercise can help you break the shackles of compulsive device checking.
  1. Limit Notifications Reduce unnecessary stress by turning off non-essential notifications and check in periodically. Not every ping needs your immediate attention.
  1. Auto-Responders Set up an email auto-responder when you're on a break or even in meetings for much of the day which wilwl ease your mind that you’ve not got back to emails.
  1. Take longer breaks Depending on your own circumstances, it can take anything from 24 hours to a week to fully disconnect so make sure you’re taking longer breaks than just 2 day weekends.
  1. Get out in nature (phone-free ofc) Nature if proven to improve mood, reduce stress and boost creativity. So leave your phone at home for a walk in the morning and spend time surrounded by nature.

How can a digital detox can help you beat FOSO?

Based on the ‘Three Day Effect’, spending time offline and in nature can help you shake the connectedness of work, reduce stress and boost your cognitive function.
Out of sight, out of mind By switching off or locking away your devices, you remove the constant notifications that land in your inbox and smartphones. By removing your phone from your side, you are incapable of responding which helps your mind to disconnect.
Intentional space to switch off Intent is the key word. You are intentionally trying to better your mental and physical wellbeing by removing your devices and connection to the outside world. By setting yourself the challenge, you won’t be as inclined to just quickly check emails. It gives you a space to entirely switch off, without the need or temptation to work right in front of you.
Getting through the ‘adjustment period’ When you first lock your phone away, you will feel a little awkward. Checking and using our phones is habitual so you might feel anxious for the first 24 hours. But according to the ‘Three Day Effect’ (which shows that a minimum of 3 days in nature and away from technology can improve your mood and cognitive function) once your through the first 24 hour period, your mind and body will begin to feel the freedom and reap the benefits of nature.
Recognising your habits Once you’ve got through the adjustment period, you will be able to relax a little more and be more present. By day 2 and 3, you will recognise the difference in your mind and the habits that become normal in our everyday - such as constantly refreshing your feed, inbox and picking your phone out of habit.
Clarity of mind Being in nature and offline is proven to boost your mood, clear your mind and promote creative thinking and problem solving. You will be able to think and function more easily and return to work feeling refreshed and recharged.
In our hyperconnected world, FOSO is a modern-day challenge. But if you remind yourself that every time you choose to switch off, you're making a conscious decision to prioritise your well-being.

Fancy time away from the screen?

Recharge your batteries by going off-grid for 3 days. Backed by science - you will feel more calm, relaxed and creative after your digital detox.

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